International military expenditure not affected by COVID-19

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the COVID-19 pandemic did not affect military spending by the world’s traditional Big Five with five sub-Saharan African countries also showing increases in their spend on military equipment and material.

Worldwide, military spending last year was 2.6% more than in 2019 at a time when the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrank by 4.4%. This international GDP contraction, the respected Swedish institute said, was largely due to the economic impact of COVID-19. SIPRI specifically notes military spending as a share of GDP reached a global average of 2.4% last year up from the previous year’s 2.2% – the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden component of GDP since the global financial and economic crisis of 2009.

The world’s five biggest spenders on military equipment remain the US, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom, accounting for 62% of global military expenditure. In sub-Saharan Africa, military spending increased by 3.4% to reach $18.5 billion. Country-wise the biggest increases in spending were by Chad (31%), Mali (22%), Mauritania (23%) and Nigeria (29%), all in the Sahel region, as well as Uganda (46%).

SIPRI points out some countries explicitly reallocated part of their planned military spending to pandemic response, such as Chile and South Korea. Others, including Brazil and Russia, spent considerably less than their initial military budgets for 2020.

“We can say with some certainty the pandemic did not have a significant impact on global military spending in 2020. It remains to be seen whether countries will maintain this level of military spending through a second year of the pandemic,” Dr Diego Lopes da Silva, researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said.

The world’s largest military spender – the US – allocated an estimated $778 billion of the national budget to military equipment acquisition. This is 4.4% more than in 2019 and sees President Joe Biden’s country account for 39% of total worldwide military spend.

“Increases in US military spending can be primarily attributed to heavy investment in research and development and long-term projects such as modernising the US nuclear arsenal and large-scale arms procurement. This reflects growing concerns over perceived threats from strategic competitors such as China and Russia, as well as the Trump administration’s drive to bolster what it saw as a depleted US military,” Alexandra Marksteiner, also a SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme researcher, said.

China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to total $252 billion in 2020. This is an increase of 1,9% over 2019 and 76% over the 2011/20 decade. China’s spending has risen for 26 consecutive years, the longest series of uninterrupted increases by any country in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.

“China stands out as the only major spender in the world not to increase its military burden in 2020 despite increasing its military expenditure, because of positive GDP growth last year,” said Dr Nan Tian, SIPRI Senior Researcher. “Ongoing growth in Chinese spending is due in part to the country’s long-term military modernisation and expansion plans, in line with a stated desire to catch up with other leading military powers.”

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